The Rising Tide of the Backpage Backlash

The role Tony Ortega played (and continues to play by remaining silent) supporting the notorious Backpage website is no secret to frequent readers of this blog, but the seismic ripple effect in the wake of the Federal raid which seized more than 12 million dollars from those associated with the underage sex-for-hire platform is something few could have predicted.

This week it was announced that human trafficking has become such a danger in California that it will be now be part of the curriculum at seven local school districts when then San Diego County District Attorney’s Office made public it will spend $3 million to fund The San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective to provide education about human trafficking to more than 237,000 students.

The organization raised $2.5 million in community donations and then matched 20 percent of those donations. One of the facilitators in this new undertaking is Backpage sex trafficking survivor Jaimee Johnson, who was sold into prostitution. For five years she amassed customers in several southern California cities by placing ads online with Backpage, the website Tony Ortega wanted desperately for you to believe is nothing more than a victim of an ‘‘epidemic of mass panic’ to vilify the site.

Johnson is now an advocate and works to expose the horrors of the very sex trafficking she endured at the hands of Backpage and its enablers. “From the very first time I was able to facilitate [teaching] I remember thinking that if I had the opportunity to get this education myself, how different my life could have been,” she said.

Let’s remind our readers  Ortega’s own words in support of Backpage dot com:

Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling “100,000 to 300,000” underage prostitutes annually. Those same numbers had already inspired terrified politicians, who let loose hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession. The Craigslist beat-down was absurdist theater. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking” culminated with the humbled attorneys from Craigslist announcing that they would close down their adult classified business. The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children. Village Voice Media watched with more than passing interest. From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at Backpage.com. Having run off Craigslist, reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media. Solicited by advocates, such websites as Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and others in the mainstream media raised the alarm that America’s children have been enslaved in prostitution, thanks to the Internet. It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion. But the facts speak for themselves. – Tony Ortega, June 29, 2011

A small group of political activists is quite ready to provide the answer. In the second decade of the 21st century, we are being told that there’s a widespread, growing, and out-of-control problem to fear in our country. And it has a catchy name: “trafficking.”

In cities across America, we are told over and over, like a mantra, that “100,000 to 300,000” underage sex slaves have been stashed away from public view, with more joining them every day. It’s a problem growing so quickly that the United States soon will be no better than Moldova or Nepal in regard to child sex trafficking. Why go to the third World looking for this nightmare when our cities and suburbs are bursting with children in bondage?

The actual data behind this “epidemic” is wanting in the extreme. It involves guesses by activist professors, junk science by nonprofit groups trying to extract money from Congress, and manipulation by religious groups hiding their real agendas about sex work. And one of the most visible enablers in this national fantasy has been young CNN reporter Amber Lyon.

Seven years ago, the people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage.com, a competitor to Craigslist. While other newspapers were doing little more than publicly condemning Newmark for the way Craigslist has, for years, eaten into their classified ads revenue, we decided to fight back. That’s just how we operate.

Backpage.com has since inherited some of the adult business that left Craigslist. The Village Voice itself has been taking such ads since the mid-1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, the adult business was a large part of the paper. Today, it’s a smaller presence in the print edition, and the Voice‘s website has no adult advertising—that business appears only at Backpage.com.

We’ve spent millions of dollars putting in place strict policies and monitoring services to make sure that it is only adults finding each other through Backpage.com‘s adult pages. Not only do we have security specialists making constant searches for keywords that might indicate an underage user, but we’re quick to cooperate with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when we find suspicious ads. – Tony Ortega, July 6, 2011

I helped turn a weekly newspaper with a Web site into a digital enterprise. Tony OrtegaSeptember 24, 2012

Tony Ortega may want you to believe it’s all a hoax but an increasing chorus of voices, from the Federal Government to local school boards are at long last fighting back against the self-serving propaganda Ortega has too long been shoveling which would seek to victimize survivors of sex trafficking all over again. And it’s about time.

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